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Ryerson Urban Farm springs forward

Planting begins this month as the RUF team grows food and community
By: Deborah Smyth
April 18, 2019
Arlene Throness stands in a row of green leafy vegetables holding a wooden-handled hoe, in a corner of the Ryerson Urban Farm, overlooking the cityscape of Toronto

April showers bring more than flowers for the Ryerson Urban Farm: “In April, the soil has finally thawed, worms and insects are waking up, and our overwintered cover crops are beginning to regrow,” said Arlene Throness (above), urban farm manager. “We have started planting to be on schedule for our first Urban Farm Stand and Harvest Share pick up on May 21.” Photo courtesy of Ryerson Urban Farm.

Downtown Toronto can feel as cold and sterile as any big city but venture up to the roof of the George Vari Engineering and Computing Centre from May to October and step into a green oasis. Surrounded by concrete and glass highrises, the Ryerson Urban Farm (RUF) grows thousands of pounds of fresh, organic produce on the quarter-acre Andrew and Valerie Pringle Environmental Green Roof.

From kale to kohlrabi, more than 50 crops are distributed among Ryerson Eats, the Ryerson Market, the Good Food Centre and a Harvest Share/Community Supported Agriculture program.

Illustrations for each of the top Ryerson Urban Farm crops for 2018, with the total number grown appearing under each illustration – 1,923 cucumbers, 1,212 eggplants, 999 bags of salad greens, 585 bunches of swiss chard, 485 summer squash, 478 bunches of carrots, 457 pints of sweet peppers, 456 pints of cherry tomatoes, 342 heirloom tomatoes, 327 bunches of radishes

Infographic courtesy of the Ryerson Urban Farm.

Named for a gift from the Pringle family (Valerie is an RTA graduate), the green roof was built in 2004. It was converted to a rooftop farm in 2013 by RUF, which grew out of a student-led initiative to grow food on campus.

“What we’re doing is so innovative; we’re inventing systems as we go along,” said Arlene Throness, urban farm manager. “We’re now a department within University Business Services, and it’s exciting to see that a farm can become part of the institutional landscape, producing food on campus rooftops and creating opportunities for education and research.”

To that end, crop weight, yield, and other information is tracked to calculate costs, improve processes and create a replicable model for others. “We’re collecting data on the farm so anyone who wants to replicate what we’re doing will have a blueprint of what we’ve learned,” said Throness.

two hands hold a bunch of red and yellow peppers over a blue garden tub

About $1,800 of rooftop-grown produce was donated to the Good Food Centre in 2018, where members of the Ryerson community can access emergency food relief. Photo: Joel Clifton.

RUF’s success has led to the building of a second rooftop farm, atop the Daphne Cockwell Health Sciences Complex, scheduled to open this year. It will be the first purpose-built green roof designed specifically for growing edible plants under the City of Toronto’s green roof bylaw.

“Overall, I’m blown away by how much people enjoy spending time up there,” said Throness. “We’ve created a natural space in the heart of the city.”

10 jars labelled “Rooftop Honey” are stacked on a wooden table in the Ryerson Urban Farm, with the cityscape of Toronto in the background

About 53 kilograms of honey was collected in 2018 from three beehives (in partnership with local beekeepers Alveole). Learn more in our story on the RUF bees. Photo: @ruurbanfarm, external link on Instagram.

New for 2019

  • Living Lab: This year a generous gift from Andrew and Valerie Pringle will turn the urban farm into a Living Lab. “[The Lab will] bring together researchers across disciplines and industry partners to develop resources that will support the rooftop farm industry here in Toronto and beyond,” said Throness.
  • Urban Farm Stand: The Farmers’ Market is on hold this year, said Throness, due to campus core revitalization construction. As a result, the Ryerson Urban Farm Stand will sell produce outside the Hub Café, first floor of Jorgenson Hall, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 12 to 1 p.m., from May 22 to October 18, (which coincides with the Harvest Share pick-up time/location).
  • Zero waste initiative: Visitors to the Urban Farm Stand are encouraged to bring reusable bags and containers for their purchases, or to purchase a new RUF tote bag at the stand. “We are working on significantly reducing our packaging in a move towards zero waste,” explained Throness.

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